Thinking of starting the keto diet? Here are 16 things every beginner needs to know before a ketogenic reset.
Since we are close to the first of the year, also known as the day you’ve been planning to start your diet, I thought I’d chime in with a few tips to help you restart (or start) a ketogenic diet in 2020.
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Before we do a deep dive into the do’s and don’t’s, keto food lists, macros, and tips for success, I want to show you what sticking to the keto diet looks like.
Here’s the thing, I lost 100 pounds on the keto diet.
And here’s the truth: it was not easy.
If anyone tells you their “keto weight loss journey” was easy and fun, they are either delusional or a liar or both.
It takes work and commitment and lots of time in the kitchen.
I had to learn how to cook, how to meal plan, and most importantly, how to silence my inner critic, who is a demotivating witch I like to call Felicia.
Now, before you think I’m out of town-crazy, let me explain.
Everyone has a Felicia.
She’s that voice inside you that tells you to give up, give in and eat a dozen donuts after you indulge in one, she’s the one who tells you you’ll never lose weight and no diet will work, so stop wasting your time.
She’s the one that says you’re selfish for spending time wanting to do better, look better and feel better.
She’s an evil liar, and she must be destroyed.
As soon as I learned how to say Bye, Felicia, I started to breakthrough my negative self-talk and made better choices. I committed to the keto diet because I was impressed with the science behind it, I was tired of starving and feeling deprived with no results, and I knew several doctors who followed a ketogenic diet with amazing results. And guess what? It worked for me.
It can work for you too, but you have to silence your inner Felicia first. Or at least work on shutting her up as you go. That’s the big secret most folks won’t or don’t tell you about losing weight. It starts with your mind, not with your macros.
What Is The Keto Diet
The ketogenic (keto) diet is a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet that reduces the number of carbs you eat per day to 30 or less. When you reduce the carbs while increasing the number of healthy fats you eat, your body enters a natural fat-fueled metabolic state known as ketosis.
Remember how I said I was impressed with the science behind keto? What I find intriguing is that the ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920’s when scientists and physicians were looking for ways to treat epilepsy – not obesity.
Using keto as a way to lose weight didn’t come into play until 1972 when Robert Atkins, M.D. described ketosis in his first diet book, Diet Revolution, as
“a happy state . . . [in which] your fat is being burned off with maximum efficiency and minimum deprivation.”
That got some attention, but the popularity of keto didn’t really take off until January of 2013 when a press release for an article in Science claimed the keto diet could:
“slow the aging process and may one day allow scientists to better treat or prevent age-related disease, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and many forms of cancer.”
Which is an accurate statement: numerous studies have indicated that a ketogenic diet reduces factors for cardiovascular disease (diabetes, heart disease, stroke), and some suggest it to be beneficial for certain types of cancer. Ketogenic diets are also known to reduce the frequency of migraines and help increase energy levels. (I can vouch for both.)
Pro Tips For Starting the Keto Diet
Six years ago, when I started the keto diet, resources were not nearly as easy to find as they are today, but more is not necessarily better.
You see, I’m afraid that for every legit keto website, there are at least 50 bad ones operated by folks who either have no keto background or no history with trying to lose weight or both. Because I don’t take weight loss or keto lightly, this concerns me (and often pisses me off) because we are dealing with life-changing information here, not a quick fix for Spring Break.
With your health in mind, I’ve put together 16 pro tips for starting the keto diet by answering some of the most common Frequently Asked Keto Questions and my experiences.
How Do I Calculate Macros?
Short for macronutrients, “macros” refers to the nutritional components that every diet requires: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Finding the right balance for you is a big deal and should be your first step in starting a keto diet.
The way I see it, the best and most accurate way to figure your macros, is by using this free macro calculator. It’s as easy as typing in your gender, height, weight, activity level, body fat percentage (there’s an estimation option), your goals & boom.
You’ve got your individualized macro numbers so you can plan your meals. It takes less than a minute to get your results. Go do it now, I’ll wait:)
How Many Carbs Per Day Do I Need To Eat?
Some low carb diets like Atkins recommend cutting net carbs to 20 per day for two weeks to get to ketosis faster. Others recommend 30 net carbs per day. Use the macro calculator as your guide.
If you look at your net carb number and immediately feel like there is no way you can realistically stick to it, you aren’t alone.
Keto is very low carb, but it isn’t the only low carb diet that is effective.
You may want to start with a low carb diet – one that cuts carbs but doesn’t require you to track macros. You’ll reap many of the same health benefits, including weight loss. You won’t be getting into ketosis on a low carb diet, but you will be taking a step in the right direction towards your health.
Once you have your target macros, you can either try to keep up with what you take in on your own in a food diary or by using an app like My Fitness Pal or Cronometer.
Calculating Net Carbs
One thing you need to know when starting the keto diet is how to calculate net carbs. And I’ve got good news – it is easy math.
Since fiber does not affect blood sugar levels or ketosis, we subtract it from the Total Carb amount (listed on nutrition labels or fitness trackers) to determine Net Carbs.
Total Carbs – Dietary Fiber = Net Carbs
Ex: Total Carbs 6g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Net Carbs = 4 g
What Foods Can I Eat On A Keto Diet?
Now that you have your macros, you need to know what foods are keto-friendly and what to avoid like the plague. I’ll give you a brief run down here, starting with healthy fats. For a more detailed list and downloadable PDF, click here.
Upping your intake of healthy fats will increase your ketone levels and will help you get into ketosis faster.
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Butter or Ghee
Stock Up On The Keto Must-Have Staples
Bacon & Turkey Bacon
Canned Tuna (in Olive Oil)
Greens (Kale, Spinach)
Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, Macadamias, Walnuts, Sunflower Seeds
- Black Pepper
- Chili Powder
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
- Pink Himalayan Salt
- Sea Salt
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar (Sugar-Free)
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Dijon Mustard
- Mayonnaise (Sugar-Free)
Need a Keto Shopping List With a Printable PDF?
Get all of the details here
Starting Keto Diet Success Tip: Pantry Clean Out
Go ahead and clear out all of the carb-loaded sugar-filled foods you have on hand. If you feel bad about food waste, donate it, but get it out of your house ASAP.
Things To Toss
Artificial Sweeteners – Splenda, Equal and Sweet’ n Low and other sweeteners contain aspartame or sucralose. Not only are these human-made sweeteners unhealthy, but they also confuse your body, and it reacts to these by spiking blood sugar, which we are trying to avoid.
Most Fruit – Fruit is nature’s sugar. The only fruits that are keto-friendly are blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Pasta, Rice, Grains, Bread, Bagels, etc
Condiments & Sauces & Salad Dressings (Look for added sugar)
Low-Fat Foods – (Manufacturers load these with extra sugar to make them taste good.)
If you are starting to feel deprived already because I have just listed everything you love about food and everything you have on hand in your pantry, I’m going to remind you now that it takes work to stick to this plan. None of these foods are healthy or even remotely good for you or your family.
Plan Your Meals
Y’all, I have to tell you that meal prep and planning does not come naturally to me. At first, I straight up sucked at it.
I was so overwhelmed by making grocery lists, searching for low carb foods (I live in a rural area), and trying to budget that by the time I got finished, all I wanted to do when I got home was order a pizza and drink. A lot.
It sucked the energy right out of me because I was a clueless beginner.
But it got more comfortable over time.
I’ve written about meal prep tips and tricks here, but what you need to know now is this: nobody is born a meal prepping queen.
You’ll get there.
Start slow, with simple, made for meal prep style recipes that don’t call for a ton of special ingredients. You may want to check out these 50 Keto Meal Prep Recipes. (I’ll link to it again at the bottom of the post.)
Follow the cook once eat twice rule and double or triple recipes like chili, soups, and grab and go breakfasts.
And for goodness sake, don’t throw your back out cooking all day on the weekend. Set a timer for 2-3 hours, make a meal prep playlist, hang a disco ball in your kitchen, and have fun in there. Life is too short to be miserable.
As for planning your meals, you can do it yourself, but be prepared to take the necessary time to prepare. I do offer a few free meal plans here, and I’ll list them below.
Alternatively, you can sign up for a meal plan with Tastaholics. I used their meal plans and cookbooks to help me learn as I went and I give them a big thumbs up:)
How Do I Know When I’m In Ketosis?
The significant difference between a low-carb diet and a keto diet is ketosis. While your body won’t be sending you an email alert when you hit ketosis, it will give you a few distinct signs that you are entering the fat-fueled metabolic state.
Bad Breath – This is the most common sign your body is in ketosis. You may experience a metal-ish taste or even a fruity taste. However you describe it, bad breath is a good thing because it means your body has started to feed off of its fat stores. Chewing sugar-free gum will help until your body gets used to the diet & then your breath will go back to normal! You won’t have chronic halitosis forever!
Decreased Appetite – This fabulous benefit comes along with most low carb diets. You aren’t eating sugar and carbs, so you don’t experience the blood sugar roller coaster’s peaks and crashes like you used to. Also, factor in that the foods you are eating are full of healthy fats and energy-sustaining protein. Or it may be the ketones working on the hunger hormones.
Testing For Ketosis
There are a few ways to accurately test for ketosis if you want to go that route.
Home Blood Test
The most accurate method is testing your blood. The process is similar to testing blood sugar levels with a finger stick (not a needle). “Optimal Ketosis” = ketone levels are between 1.0 mmol/L-3.0 mmol/L.
Testing your urine is the more affordable route and usual route for beginners. Perfect Keto offers doctor-developed, high-quality ketone urine strips.
Urine testing is also sensitive to how hydrated you are or aren’t-this study took a look at the best time to test for ketosis and found morning is the best time.
If you prefer a test that requires no bodily fluid, then opt for testing for acetone, the breath ketone.
Before Starting The Keto Diet: Prepare for the Keto Flu
While an actual virus or flu doesn’t cause it, the keto flu is very REAL. The keto flu is the name given to the symptoms your body has when it goes through carb restriction, which feels a lot like, you guessed it, the flu.
Now, don’t freak out when you read the symptoms; you won’t wake up one day with every single one. Most people get one or two, and some don’t get any!
The good news? The symptoms usually don’t last longer than a few days.
Even better? You can take steps to prevent the keto flu and ease the symptoms if you have them.
Symptoms of Keto Flu
- Digestive Upset
- Lack of Focus
- Sugar Cravings
- Mental Fog
- Heart Palpitations/Arrhythmia
- Leg & Muscle Cramps
How To Ease Symptoms of the Keto Flu
The #1 Tip to Avoid the Keto-Flu – Stay Hydrated!
The keto diet can cause you to drop water weight, especially in the first week, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration leads to all kinds of nasty symptoms like headaches, dizziness, weakness.
Sounds like the keto flu, right? Stay on top of your water game by drinking plenty of H20! Tea & coffee count too, but nothing is better than water. Drink even more if you are suffering from diarrhea – which can also cause dehydration. I found that adding a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a glass of water eased my keto flu symptoms.
By the way, I rely on my weight to determine the amount of H2O I need, which is 93 ounces of water: 125 (weight) x 75% = 93.75 ounces of water per day. Sure, I take a million “bio breaks” per day, but you do what you have to do, right?
Help Ease Keto Flu Symptom Tip 2: Replenish Electrolytes
When you cut carbs, your levels of electrolytes tend to drop, which can result in making you feel like garbage. Here’s a breakdown of the common symptoms and remedies of low electrolytes.
Sodium: Symptoms of low sodium levels include fatigue, weakness, headaches, and brain fog.
The Fix: Increase sodium by adding extra salt to your food and drinking 2 cups of bone broth daily.
*If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, you need to speak with your doctor before adding any more salt into your diet.
Symptoms of Low Magnesium & Potassium
Low Magnesium: Having muscle and leg cramps? You may need magnesium. Take a supplement or add more magnesium-rich foods to your diet like almonds, chia seeds, spinach, and dark chocolate.
Low Potassium: Symptoms of low potassium are muscle cramps and pains and increased heartbeat. To increase potassium levels, you could take a supplement or add more potassium-rich foods like avocado, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
Keto Supplements To Consider Before Starting A Keto Diet
MCT Oil – Increases ketone levels. Perfect Keto offers an MCT Oil Powder made with real MCT’s from coconuts. It is available in five flavors that are easy to mix with keto-friendly fibers for digestive support. (Word To Your Mother readers get a 15% discount if you use this link. Discount code: WTYM15)
Electrolyte Supplements – Perfect Keto covers your electrolytes with a supplement that includes Magnesium, Sodium, Calcium, and Potassium. (Word To Your Mother readers get a 15% discount if you use this link. Discount code: WTYM15)
Pink Himalayan Salt – Pink Himalayan Salt is unique because it contains 84 different minerals, and it helps to regulate blood sugar levels, which is VIP on a keto diet. Use this stuff to season your food, drinks, hell, shoot it like vodka. Just get the sodium into your system ASAP, especially if you are having symptoms of low sodium.
How To Jumpstart Ketosis: Consider Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting isn’t a starvation diet-It’s a method of eating that focuses on when to eat and not what to eat. Fasting is about having control over your hunger and your body, not depriving yourself. Fasting works for weight loss by allowing your body time to burn off excess fat.
During a fast, your body’s insulin levels and glycogen stores decrease, which leads your body to burn fat for fuel naturally. Combine IF with a low carb diet, and you’ll get to ketosis faster.
Exercise For Health And Ketosis
Yes, you can lose weight on keto without exercising, but you need to move your body. Not only will exercise boost your mood and your overall well being, but the physical activity will help you deplete your glycogen stores, which will help you reach ketosis faster.
Set Specific Goals
Ok, I’ll try not to get all fired up about this, but I am high-key passionate when it comes to goal setting and writing things down because studies prove that people who write down their goals (and their plan) are more likely to achieve them. For example, if you are starting a keto diet to lose weight, you’ll need to get specific about that weight loss goal.
Goal: I want to lose 20 pounds in my first two months on the keto diet, and I will get there by cutting carbs from junk food, sugar, and soda and I will focus on eating more healthy fats. I know when I reach this goal, I will feel more confident and motivated and in control of my health.
That’s the kind of specific you’re going to need to be. Don’t set vague, lofty goals that will fuel your inner Felicia to rip you apart if you don’t meet them:)
Measure Your Progress
Seriously, even if you detest the way you look in pictures now, you are going to wish you had “before” photos down the line. (My “before” is after a 30-pound weight loss because I cannot find ANY photographic evidence of me at my biggest. The only exercise I did back then was run from the camera:)
You’ll also want to get measurements of your waist, arms, chest, and hips along with your starting weight. Get someone to help you measure, write down your numbers in a journal, and track your progress every month. But do not get crazy about this and start obsessing over weight.
FYI: I threw my scale away years ago. I measure progress by how I feel and how my clothes fit.
Track Your Progress With A Lipoprotein (Cholesterol) Test
Alright, now you are supposed to check with your doctor before you start any weight loss program, but I know most folks don’t. (If you have a history of high blood pressure, type 1 or 2 diabetes or heart disease you must talk to your doctor first – no excuses.)
If I were you, I would get an up to date cholesterol test to measure where you stand with your LDL, HDL, Triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels before starting the diet. My ex-doctor wanted to put me on a statin at my heaviest. He is my “ex” because he didn’t suggest diet and exercise first, which helped me improve my levels without medication, thankyouverymuch.
LDL Cholesterol: Also referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the stuff that can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chance of having an event such as a heart attack or stroke.
HDL Cholesterol: You may know high-density lipoprotein or HDL as the “good” cholesterol. HDL helps to protect against heart disease by keeping the bad cholesterol from building up in your arteries. (Keto diets typically elevate HDL)
Triglycerides: Having an excess of triglycerides, which are like the chemical form of fat, is linked with coronary artery disease. (To get an accurate test result, you need to fast before the test.)
- Best: Lower than 100
- Close To Best But Not Bad: 100 – 129
- Borderline High: 130 – 159
- High: 160 – 189
- Very High: 190 & Above
- Excellent: 60 or Higher
- Low: 40 or Less
- Average: Less Than 150
- Borderline High: 150-199
- High: 200-499
- Very High: 500 or More
Keeping close tabs on these numbers – ideally every six months, but at least once a year is a big deal – consider it self-care to extend your life.
The way I see it, these numbers are just as important if not more than the ones you track on the scale.
Starting A Keto Diet Key Takeaways
I know we have covered a lot of ground here, but if you’re starting the keto diet, there is a lot to learn, and I have an issue with writing short blog posts because I get super geeky about health. So, just to recap, let’s do a quick review of what we covered today.
Focus on cutting your carbs to 30 net carbs per day.
Eat plenty of healthy fats and cut out junk food and carbs like pasta, rice, and sugar.
Prepare for the keto flu by drinking lots of water and keeping your electrolyte levels up.
Learn your way around the kitchen and meal prep and plan so you won’t be caught off guard in a “hangry” moment and fall off of the keto wagon.
But if you do, don’t beat yourself up – just jump back in.
Set realistic goals and write them down as you track your progress.
If you need more information about the keto diet, you can find all kinds of free beginner’s resources on this site, from food lists to meal plans to recipes. My last piece of advice to you today is to subscribe below to get updates when I write something new.